Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or "audience") and their experience of a literary work, as opposed to other schools and theories that focus on the author or the work's substance and form. It can be described as focusing on how readers relate to texts rather than what readers think about those texts.
This approach was first proposed by Stanley Fish in his book Is There A Text In This Class? (1990). Fish argued that if we look at how readers actually respond to texts, rather than using traditional analytical tools such as footnotes, endnotes, annotations, etc., we can understand more fully what they find interesting or not about these works. For example, he suggested that if we look at how students react when asked questions about books they have never read, we will see that they often refer to things that appear in the text, such as characters, settings, and so on, which show that they were interested in the narrative content of the book.
Fish's idea has been widely adopted by literary scholars. It is now common for researchers to ask readers about their experiences with particular passages or elements within texts, such as scenes, characters, or themes, and to analyze how these responses vary depending on the reader.
Reader Response is a critical theory that emphasizes the reader's participation in developing the meaning of a piece of literature. Reader response criticism not only allows for, but also is interested in, how these meanings shift from reader to reader and throughout time. Thus, reader response critics try to understand what readers think about texts they read.
Because readers' interpretations of texts are so crucial to understanding what readings respond to, we need to know how they come to those interpretations. Therefore, reader response critics focus on the ways in which readers engage with texts, looking at things like how readers react to passages, whether readers note connections between different parts of a work, and so forth. They believe that by studying how readers respond to texts, we can learn more about what those texts mean.
Furthermore, because reader response critics want to know why some readers interpret texts one way and others interpret them differently, they often look into the lives of readers in order to understand what influences them into thinking about texts in certain ways.
Finally, because reader response theorists believe that all readers do not interpret texts alike but instead give their own responses to them, they want to know what aspects of a text most influence what readers think about it.
Reader-response argues that the reader's part is critical to the meaning of a book, because only through the reading experience can the literary work come alive. As a result, the goal of a reading response is to investigate, explain, and justify your own reaction to a book. You may even want to write about it.
This means that a good reader response should make us think and feel about the text in ways it might not have if we had simply read it passively. A good reader response also should make us consider what other people might think about the text, which goes beyond what we ourselves felt while reading it. Finally, a good reader response should make us want to go back and read the text again, which is where the connection with criticism comes in. A good reader response makes us reconsider whether the text was worth reading in the first place.
There are many different methods for writing good reader responses. Some common ones include summarizing certain parts of the text or even the whole thing, analyzing its themes, explaining ambiguities, and so on. The key here is that each method should help us understand the text better by bringing out aspects of it that would have gone unnoticed otherwise.
For example, when studying Thomas Hardy's poem "In Time of War", some important details about life in England during World War I can be discovered by reading between the lines.
The Goal of Reader Response Reader-response argues that the reader's part is critical to the meaning of a book, because only through the reading experience can the literary work come alive. You do this by writing about it.
Your explanation should not only identify what aspects of the text struck you as important but also try to understand why these aspects are important and how they relate to the text as a whole. You may want to refer back to the text to find additional facts or reasons for believing some parts to be significant while others seem less so. Finally, you need to reflect on your own response to the text, considering such questions as why you felt moved to read it in the first place and what effect it has had on you.
Books that utilize this method of interpretation are called reader-response books. The term was coined by British critic Raymond Williams who wrote two influential essays on the subject: "The Sense of History" (1965) and "Modern Poetry: A Declaration" (1971).
In "The Sense of History", Williams argued that modern readers tend to view literature as isolated objects rather than as components of a larger historical process. He claimed that this conceptually rigid approach to reading prevents us from understanding how certain events or ideas are revealed through particular works of art.